Roddy Lumsden and Fran Lock: two poems



Here, once again, is Fran's introduction:


About the poems

It is not easy to explain. I owe more to Roddy Lumsden than to any other figure in UK poetry. Not because he believed in and championed my work when no one else would – although he did – but because he recognised when I was drowning and leant down to help me up. To be heard in that way is a powerful thing. It changes you. It changed my life.

I'm not making any claims. It's not my place to tell anyone who Roddy was. Others knew him better, longer. He meant more to me than I did to him, and that's okay. What I think I can say is that we both, in our different ways, lived in and through poetry; that it was our way of being in and belonging to the world. My sense of that belonging, however partial, however peripheral, I have because of Roddy. He made space for me and persisted with me. He didn't have to, and I didn't always make it easy, but he did. That's a gift. That's rare.

Which makes it sound as if these poems are some kind of "tribute", a way of "honouring" Roddy. And they're not, not really. They're not, because poetry isn't fundamentally memorial – I don't think so anyway – but relational. By which I mean, I'm not erecting some kind of lyric monument here, it's more my way of carrying on a conversation that got cut short. As an editor and mentor Roddy pushed me; he made me hone, refine and sharpen my work. He forced me beyond my comfort-zone as a writer. He tested and challenged. Not only through his invaluable editorial criticism, but in his own writing, which was this idiosyncratic mix of meticulousness and daring. My work was – and to a large extent still can be – all explosion and no control. Roddy wrote with that combination of precision and flair (or flare) that is language's true alchemy. He was – he remains – an inspiration and instruction to me.

Which is not to say I'm trying to write "like" Roddy, although I am seeking a more profound relationship with form. It's a kind of riffing, on theme and on structure. A "session" if you like. Or, maybe, a sort of call and response. Terrific Melancholy came out in 2011, at what is properly the start of my own erratic poetry trajectory. I can't overstate the impact of the book on how I understood the scope, the possibilities, and the potentials of poetry. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It made me want to try harder. I met Roddy for the first time in 2011. He was supervising my MA. I was fucking terrified.

I miss Roddy a great deal. But these poems aren't about "mourning" per se. I'm not lamenting what's lost, but trying to celebrate what remains: this amazing body of work. My poems are gloomy, but that's just who I am. Those are my preoccupations, that's my personality. I hope the pleasure is legible too. Teaching Roddy's poetry to my students, what always comes across is how invigoratingly alive they feel; how much relish and delight they take in language, even at their bleakest. Language for Roddy seemed to be a kind of pushing back, a means to refuse even as they expressed the sometimes awfulness of life. I feel that way too.

There's a care or a cherishing that goes on in a Roddy Lumsden poem. Roddy's word would be "fond", I expect. There's a fondness, then, for the poems' subjects and for language itself, a big-spiritedness that catches you off guard if you're not looking and you don't know. I'm writing the poems, I suppose, because it is my joy and my privilege to spend time in and with them. I hope they might be a route to Roddy's work for someone else who needs it too.


The Shilling Hotel


Though the centenarian had a room,

she played the days through

in a corner of the street level fry bar,


spinning out a few stewed, milky teas,

a butterless chicken sandwich

and stared into what was off-stage


for the rest of us, at what we assumed

was the swishing life she'd led

but was, in truth, less than nothing much.


Nights, we'd see her through the blind –

too gone to stir from her freeze, still

as beef – expect each morning to find her


tilted cold and open-jawed. Yet each time,

she returned, less from compelling death,

more into each next, each necessary life,


just as a clamberer over ice is sucked

by black charm towards a place

where to fall and die seems the only choice


and holds that thrill – inhuman lack –

and pivots between trust and will

then heels back onto the gifted path.


Roddy Lumsden


*****


Theodora


After "The Shilling Hotel" by Roddy Lumsden


The days are more cloak, less dagger now.

A roaring pity. Dot in the afternoon's fouled

yoke, I'm stirring my queasy wits with an oily

spoon.


They gawp me, puppet-jawed, these nearly

young. A trembling film of grease on my tepid

tea. This bread is like the eyelids of the blind,

so thin and cheap.


These derelict cuisines. I'll pick the moult from

menus with a nail, and never mind. I'm starving

out the fever of my modesty, tot by milky tipple.

I was young


but gutless; took on the shape of lousy rooms

like sausage in its cloudy skin. For other girls

the feints, the counterfeits and shines. I was

pure, cold Lifebuoy Soap


and starch, the squandered dancer's arch,

and guineas in a custard tin. But here, now,

caught in my stiff tilt toward the window,

would return.


It's slow, toiling the glum hours aside by

inches: mole. I work myself into the crease

of a passer's eye, so that he might carry me

into the world.


You've decades yet beneath your bolshy

greening stride, to conquer planets, rid

yourself of gall and thrift. Look neither

down nor back, my dear. There is no vale,

there is no path. Your tundra is a jungle,

dear, your wilderness of lushy gifts.


The Shilling Hotel is reproduced by kind permission of Bloodaxe Books, who published Terrific Melancholy in 2011.


Roddy Lumsden was a Scottish poet. He published seven collections of poetry, as well as editing a generational anthology of British and Irish poets of the 1990s and 2000s, Identity Parade, among other anthologies.


Dr Fran Lock is a some-time itinerant dog whisperer, the author of seven poetry collections and of numerous chapbooks, most recently Contains Mild Peril (Out-Spoken Press, 2019). Fran has recently completed her Ph.D. at Birkbeck College, University of London, titled, "Impossible Telling and the Epistolary Form: Contemporary Poetry, Mourning and Trauma". She is an Associate Editor at Culture Matters.